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Benefit to support Fleming family attracts 700 to 800 people

Taylor Howard, left, and Gia Vassallo, both 10, leave a message for the Fleming family in a book of photos at the TayStrong benefit held at Drivers Village Sunday, March 18. The benefit raised money for the family of Taylor Fleming, who died of injuries sustained in a car accident in December.

Taylor Howard, left, and Gia Vassallo, both 10, leave a message for the Fleming family in a book of photos at the TayStrong benefit held at Drivers Village Sunday, March 18. The benefit raised money for the family of Taylor Fleming, who died of injuries sustained in a car accident in December.

— On Sunday, March 18, at Drivers Village in Cicero, Taylor Fleming was everywhere.

She smiled down from photos on the walls. Her laugh echoed from old videos playing on a television in the corner. Stories of her passed from table to table.

It was almost like she was really there.

That was the goal of TayStrong, the benefit and celebration organized by Taylor’s uncle, David Guido, to raise money for Taylor’s family. Taylor was on her way home from volunteering at the Smith Road Elementary School Christmas tree lighting and concert in Cicero on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011 when her 2003 Dodge Neon was struck broadside by a 2000 Lincoln Continental driven by 45-year-old Timothy Williams of Phoenix. Williams was later charged with driving while intoxicated. Fleming was removed from life support three days later so that her organs could be donated. In order to help her parents pay her medical bills and other expenses, Guido and other family members organized the benefit, which was also intended to be a celebration of Taylor’s all-too-brief yet inspiring life.

“If I could describe it in one word, I’d say it was amazing,” Guido said. “It was more than I expected. It was just what I wanted. I was nervous that people weren’t going to show, but we had this huge crowd. It was awesome.”

Guido estimated that about 700 to 800 people were in the crowd at Drivers Village, populating the conference rooms on the second floor. Those in attendance enjoyed food, games, face painting, a photo booth, raffle prizes, a live auction and more. They also had a chance to remember the girl they so loved in life; on one of the tables was a box with a stack of index cards beside it with a sign above it reading, “Taylor’s Acts of Kindness: Tell us the impact Taylor made on you, something nice she did for you, something nice she did for someone else, a favorite memory you have of her [or] why you love her.”

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